Escapism Through the Documentary

Documentaries gives us a peek into the window of someone else’s reality, and in these very unusual times, a glimpse into a place where the real world is not upended and devastated by a global panic sounds quite comforting. While during “normal” times, one might escape through fantasy, sci-fi, or a very engrossing drama, during the era of COVID-19, why not try the documentary?

Nanook of the North movie poster

Documentary film first began as the creation of brief, informational videos and has evolved over time to become more observational, expository, and entertaining. One of the most significant early documentaries is Nanook of the North , a 1922 chronicle of an Inuit man and his family in Northern Canada. Often hailed as a significant cultural achievement, Nanook is an excellent example for critically thinking about the art of documentary filmmaking. Who is controlling the narrative, and how has the filmmaker influenced the audience’s response to what they’re seeing on screen? Continue reading “Escapism Through the Documentary”

Virtual visits: Art collections and experiences online

Uncertainty about safe and healthy travel these days has caused many of our plans to be interrupted or canceled. For hours we had planned itineraries, scheduled exhausting (but fun!) days, and made must-do, must-eat, and must-see lists, but sadly those lists will remain unchecked for now. The strolls we imagined we would take in renowned parks and sites? Not going to happen. All the delicious food we were supposed to enjoy in the quaintest of restaurants and cafés? Still untried. And the paintings, sculptures, and other pieces of art that we planned to visit and study in world-famous museums? Luckily we can see those by virtual means.

Photo of Musee d'Orsay and Pont Royal
Musee d’Orsay and Pont Royal, by Daniel Vorndran / DXR

Continue reading “Virtual visits: Art collections and experiences online”

Original Independent: John Sayles

Filmmaker and author John Sayles has been creating excellent work for over forty years. Helming his first film in 1980 at the age of 30, he had already written two books and a few genre films for Roger Corman, including the timeless eco-parables Piranha and Alligator. Favoring stories about communities during moments of upheaval and duress, Sayles’s brand of social consciousness is present across his work, often marked by ensemble casts that occupy various strata of economic power. Through Overdrive and Hoopla, you can explore a sample of this great storyteller’s work with your Seattle Public Library card.

Available as both an ebook and a downloadable audiobook is his latest novel, Yellow Earth. Following over a dozen players around the Dakotan region of the town of Yellow Earth, the book explores the evolution of a community affected by the discovery of oil in its vicinity. The story dives headlong into fracking dynamics, exploring the geological and psychological fallout of corporate mandates in a world that is still addicted to petroleum. Continue reading “Original Independent: John Sayles”

The Story of Film Part 5: Post War Cinema

Our last column on Mark Cousin’s The Story of Film left us in 1939, as the clouds of war rolled in. By the early 1940’s, the world was fully embroiled in the conflict of World War 2. Film production in most countries either slowed down or closed entirely. Films still being made were full of propaganda and featured stalwart characters fighting their country’s enemies for the glory of their nation. It would not be until the war ended that world cinema began to grow again.

The most interesting development in American cinema would be the inauguration of a new genre: Film Noir. Literally translated from the French as “black or dark film,” these Hollywood crime dramas featured sleazy criminals, double-crossing dames, and hapless losers – often former soldiers – caught in life-threatening games of cross & double-cross. Noir captured a feeling of despair and helplessness, opposing Technicolor with a moody black & white style deeply indebted to German expressionism.

Fittingly, one of the great Noir directors was a German emigre: Fritz Lang. Lang was one of the prime architects of the genre from early “proto-noirs” such as Fury and Hangmen Also Die to later classics such as Scarlet Street and The Big Heat. Another émigré who made his mark was Billy Wilder, whose film Double Indemnity is often considered the pinnacle of the form. American-born filmmakers also contributed with John Huston directing the early Noir The Maltese Falcon and Howard Hawks directing the film of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. Even the director of Citizen Kane, Orson Welles, would contribute to the genre with such films as The Stranger and The Lady From Shanghai. Continue reading “The Story of Film Part 5: Post War Cinema”

Learning From Home

Homeschool is the new school for Washington through the rest of the 2019-2020 year. Teachers are finding ways to connect with parents and classes, providing online and printed resources as best they can to keep pace with their students’ need for knowledge. Families can also find valuable resources through the library to supplement their home classroom learning for all ages.

The Everything Kids Joke BookStudying at home is tough. Focusing in an environment that we associate with play can take some getting used to. You can make the transition easier with some brain teasing puzzles and word games from Michael Dahl’s The Everything Kid’s Joke Book, recommended for kids 7-12. Break up lesson time with laugh breaks! Make reading its own reward with silly puns! Build vocabulary with story jokes. While you can’t print from Overdrive materials, kids can copy crosswords and “picto-laughs” to finish. Fun in the classroom can maximize motivation, especially when the classroom is at home. Continue reading “Learning From Home”